Chicago Bears TE Braunecker hoping Year 3 is charmed

August 24, 2018

Even by his own admission, Bears third-year TE Ben Braunecker is not an instant-impact kind of guy.

And, even though his major at Harvard was molecular and cellular biology as preparation for future plans to attend medical school, Braunecker admits he sometimes takes awhile to get the lay of the land in a new situation.

“I’ve always been the guy to not step into an environment and immediately thrive,” he said. “I like to -- I guess subconsciously -- feel it out and find a way to succeed at it; figure out the problems and then solve them. I think this being Year Three, I’m really starting to find my stride and be comfortable, no matter the situation, and know what I’m capable of and just be confident in my play.”

The 6-foot-4, 252-pound Braunecker pointed out that it was his third year at Forest Park High School in downstate Ferdinand, Ind., when he made honorable mention all-state. And, though his third season at Harvard was hindered by an injury, Braunecker averaged 20.6 yards on 11 catches and it propelled him toward a senior season in which he caught 48 passes for 850 yards, a 17.7-yard average and eight touchdowns.

After signing as an undrafted rookie with the Bears in 2016, Braunecker has played briefly in 21 games with modest totals: four receptions for 41 yards, and he’s also contributed on special teams. But, since this is his third year with the Bears, maybe the Year Three trend will continue. The opportunity is there, even though the Bears’ depth chart lists Trey Burton, Dion Sims and Adam Shaheen as the top three, in that order.

But Shaheen (ankle, foot) is out for at least several weeks, and Sims (concussion) has only recently returned to limited physical activity. That means more playing time for Daniel Brown, Braunecker and Colin Thompson, including in Saturday’s preseason matchup with the Chiefs, when starters will get their most significant playing time before the regular season kicks off.

“It means more of an opportunity to put myself out there to make plays,” Braunecker said, “to hopefully make a club (even) if (it’s) not this one.”

Braunecker’s 12-yard, fourth-quarter TD catch last week proved to be the winning score in the Bears’ 24-23 victory over the Broncos, but he got off to a rocky start early in training camp.

“He had a couple rough days,” coach matt Nagy said. “We got on him. I, in particular, got on him. (But) to see the kid be resilient and fight back and fight through that mentally, and now to come out here in these games, you see that his confidence is growing. You see it out in practice and on the field.”

Nagy said Braunecker took the criticism in the spirit in which it was intended.

“It was good because there’s no sulking or feeling bad for themselves,” the coach said. “We don’t do that here. We all understand, coaches included, that we’re going to have constructive criticism, but it’s all out of love.”

Nagy’s offense is one in which tight ends love to play, and they’ve combined to catch 20 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason.

“You saw what Nagy did with (TE Travis) Kelce in Kansas City,” Braunecker said. “I think (this offense) really opens things up in the middle for big, athletic tight ends to run down the seam. There are a lot of QB reads where the tight end is No. 1 in the progression, so it’s an extremely TE friendly offense. It’s awesome.”

Medical outlook

Rookie ILB Roquan Smith is not expected to play Saturday, although he did some individual drills at Thursday’s final practice before the game.

“The biggest thing with him right now is just trying to be smart,” Nagy said. “I don’t think we want to be foolish in trying to force something.”

OLB Aaron Lynch returned to the practice field for the first time since the first training-camp practice on July 20, and he did some individual drills but won’t play Saturday, either.

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